The Gospel according to Jesus, Queen of Heaven

Aug 20 2014 | By More

★★★★☆  Spiritual sustenance

artSpace @ St Marks (Venue 125) Tues 5 – Sat 23 August 2014

Peaceful, uplifting and optimistic, Jo Clifford’s The Gospel according to Jesus, Queen of Heaven provides an ideal late-night experience at St Mark’s Unitarian Church.

Jo Clifford. Photo: Stuart Platt

Jo Clifford. Photo: Stuart Platt

Anyone expecting an ‘affront to the Christian faith’, as the show was called before its first appearance, will be sadly disappointed. Clifford’s transgender Jesus preaches – or rather discusses, as the performance soon moves from a sermon into something altogether quieter and more considered – a message of inclusivity and diversity.

She points out that the New Testament does not speak out against gay people, but rather against the hypocrites and the self-righteous – which would cover those who use the Bible as a weapon against the LGBT community. After all, as she says, how likely is it that the disciples were twelve straight men with beards?

Meditative, candlelit and relaxed, the Gospel proceeds at a measured pace, avoiding any trickery or hectoring, and achieving a delicate balance between the theatrical and the spiritual. Clifford’s appearance combines the tattered demeanour of a weary pilgrim with an appropriately beatific countenance, and is completely enthralling. The atmosphere is perfect for the end of a long Festival day, and the venue have even found an elegant response to starting at the exact time the Tattoo fireworks go off.

brave and completely justified decision

There is a sadness here, and an anger too, but instead of being directed into bitterness, it is sublimated into a hard-won poetry, and brings a message of genuine hope. Despite the criticism that has been directed towards the play and to Clifford herself at times, the general air is one of forgiveness, and a belief that things can and will change. This optimism is reflected by the brave and completely justified decision of St Mark’s to stage the production when others had cold feet.

The appropriation of elements of religious ritual into the performance may have the capacity to trouble both believers and non-believers alike, but it is done in such an inclusive way, with such grace and overarching good-heartedness that it is difficult to see anyone who experiences it taking offence. As the objectors to the original production proved, it is much easier to disapprove of a play you have neither seen nor read.

Objections can easily be raised to some of the text – the use of so many Biblical parables seems unnecessary, and the inconsistent updating produces an uneven effect. The reference to a bishop visiting a prostitute in the Good Samaritan jars, as it is a rare note of vindictiveness.

This simply serves, however, to remind us of the rooted contemporary nature of Clifford’s message. This is not any form of propaganda; nor is it any kind of rewriting of history. Rather it is a heartfelt plea for tolerance and love that should reach as wide an audience as possible.

Too ragged, too inclusive and altogether too human to strive for perfection, this production is thoroughly brave, strikingly poignant and utterly necessary.

Running time 1 hour
artSpace @ St Marks, 7 Castle Terrace, EH1 2DP (Venue 125)
Tues 5 – Sat 23 August 2014
Daily (not Sun or Mon) at 10.30 pm
Tickets at


Tags: , , , , , , , ,